On Wednesday afternoon, seven students from John Mahood Public School sat in the school’s library during their second nutrition break to try out a set of brand new iPads.
It was a fascinating juxtaposition of old and new technology as John Mahood’s new iPad focus group, a collection of students ranging in age from junior kindergarten up to Grade 5, tested the latest addition to the school’s educational technology for the first time.
Referred to as the iPad lab, it consists of 20 Apple tablet devices stored in a special cart that simultaneously charges and syncs them to a single laptop computer. The lab can be easily wheeled around to classrooms throughout the school, and school principal Tracy Tait has high hopes for the technology.
“They certainly complement the curriculum,” she said, adding that all the programs known as applications, or apps, will have an educational component to them before being added to the iPads via the laptop and the school’s iTunes account.
The students will have no access to the iTunes account and only staff can download apps onto the iPads.
“There won’t be apps strictly for the purpose of playing games; there are math apps, music apps, language apps, and there are a wide variety of apps in the form of assistive technologies for students that struggle or have special needs.”
For example, text-to-type apps will allow a child to speak into the microphone and their words are typed out, which can then be emailed to their teacher or sent wirelessly to a printer.
“It’s easier for children who struggle with fine motor tasks and writing to be able to get their thoughts on paper in a way that makes them feel successful,” Tait said.
The iPads can be signed out by teachers just like any other piece of technology in the school, and staff has had a chance to test out the devices both at school and at home to get a feel for what the technology can offer.
While some may call into question the increased role of technology in the classroom, there is a growing body of evidence in support of it.
The National Institute for Education found that technology can support instant feedback and interaction among students, and research in the UK showed students using mobile learning technology such as the iPad increased their motivation and enthusiasm for their course.
The devices have also been shown to help those with developmental disorders such as Autism, and combined with computers, interactive smartboards and powerpoint projectors that are already in classrooms, technology has transformed the ways students learn.
“Our board has a focus on a variety of different technologies, iPads being just one,” said Tait.
John Mahood is far from the first school in the region to make use of iPad technology, and Tait said she was encouraged by administrators at Millen Woods P.S. and Lester B. Pearson P.S. in Waterloo who praised the impact the iPad has had on their students’ ability to learn in the classroom.
This year the school started looking into getting their own iPad lab at the school, and with funds raised during their annual Treasure Books fundraiser in September, the school collected more than $11,000, which was enough to order a lab in October, which included 10 iPads and the sync cart, and left enough money left over to purchase another 10 iPads.
“We’re very thankful for the community’s support in raising those funds,” said Tait.
The iPads are being used in conjunction with the school’s pre-existing Digital Citizenship program developed when computers first entered the classroom, and it includes topics such as teaching students to interact appropriately with the technology, how to care for it, how to be a responsible Internet user, and so on.
As for the students in the focus group, the plan is for them to test out the iPads and provide some feedback on how they might be integrated into the curriculum using new and creative ways that teachers and administrators may not think of.
“The hope is that those students will become leaders in their own classes, so when the class has an opportunity to use the iPads, they have an expert in-house to assist their friends.”